Instagram And Self-Esteem Don't Have To Be Mutually Exclusive

Spiraling into a comparison worm hole? You're not the only one.

Spiraling into a comparison worm hole? You're not the only one.

Social media isn’t as social as it suggests. If anything, it can make us feel more isolated. But there are ways to combat that. Here's how.

I recently overheard someone say, “Whenever I go on Instagram I just start to get depressed.” My immediate reaction was: SAME. Instagram allows us to connect with our communities, explore, and develop personally. You can even make money using Instagram.

It is a slippery slope, however. If we aren’t mindful of our social media habits, we can lose sight of reality. And let’s be honest: These images are far from reality.

It’s all too easy to get sucked into a black hole where time and space cease to exist, when scrolling through your social feed. When I see beautiful image after beautiful image, I don’t want to stop. Suddenly, two hours have gone by, my thumbs hurt, and I don’t even know whose Instagram I’m looking at or how I got there. We’ve all been there. It’s like asking, “Who here has felt victimized by Regina George?”

Going down the rabbit hole usually starts with curiosity. This curiosity gains momentum by viewing and engaging with each image in a seemingly endless stream. Then, it takes an ugly turn and morphs into jealousy and envy, in my experience, anyway. I want that dress. I wish I could pull off that bathing suit. How can I get glowing flawless skin too? I want a perfect tan. Ooh, those earrings! 

Our cognitive flow of thoughts leads to comparing ourselves and our lives in negative ways, that ultimately leaves us feeling terrible and even depressed. To combat this, the first step is becoming aware.

Understanding and acknowledging this pattern is crucial to fighting the side-effects of social media. When was the last time you or someone you know posted a picture looking bad? Never. Instagram is a highlight reel of our lives, showing off how happy we are, how much fun we’re having, or how great our lives are. It’s a carefully curated portrayal; like an iceberg, where half is hidden from view and submerged in the water. You choose what people see.

Multiple studies report finding a direct link between mental health problems and use of social media, particularly, Instagram. The United Kingdom’s Royal Society for Public Health surveyed 1,500 young adults and teenagers and found a correlation between spending time on Instagram and depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

After acknowledging that these images on your social feed are a mirage, begin to question why you’re feeling a certain way as a result.

Dr. Samantha Boardman, a specialist in positive psychology, confirms this. “Studies show that when images are viewed with this approach, and with an understanding that the images represent a fantasy, they have less of a negative effect and can even improve one’s mood,” said Boardman.

She also encourages going deep inside your self by posing questions like: “What is it about the other person’s life that is triggering envy in you? What do you admire about them and what they have accomplished? Transform envy into an opportunity to better understand your own values and goals.”

Boardman suggests flipping the unhappy narrative following an Instagram binge from “benign envy” to a “positive force and a powerful motivator.” After all, she says, “another’s success can provide clarity about your own goals and inspire you to take action.”

On the flip side, Instagram can provide a place to be genuine. Talk show host Chelsea Handler interviewed supermodel Cara Delevingne in July, asking her if she felt the need to set an example, given her broad audience.

“I feel like my example and thing I try to inspire is to be yourself,” answered Delevingne. “Again, the thing with Instagram and social media, it does become very contrived and controlled, and I think the most important thing is to post that thing of me falling flat on my face because well all do it. It’s OK to make mistakes, it’s OK to fail.”

The amazing thing about authenticity, is it's also contagious. Lead by example by representing yourself on Instagram as exactly who you are. It's such a simple antidote, you're already doing it. Great job!

If you are experiencing depression, suicidal thoughts, or just need to talk to someone, text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Words: Bianca Heyward